As a young child, I loved Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. Rereading them as a parent, I’m charmed anew (but kind of stunned by what a single-minded nut job Pa seems to be). However homespun my reading material, though, I’m closer in temperament to Woody Allen than to Ma Ingalls. My family’s method of getting down to earth will have to come with an escape hatch. Like a farm vacation.
Feather Down Farms, a farm stay company from Europe that has set up housekeeping on three American farms in the past two years, offers curious city-dwellers a chance to experience a rarified and charming rural experience without any of the hardships that plagued pioneer families like the Ingalls and the Wilders (No locusts! No prairie fires! No wolves!), or even those that faced by modern small farmers today.
Instead you check into a “tent” (canvas sides, yes, but a wood floor and indoor plumbing and woodstove and real beds with down duvet covers) on a real working farm. Each farm runs a store where you can buy supplies, locally sourced when possible, for your meals. On some nights, the farm family uses a wood-burning oven to make bread and pizza to share with guests, but other nights, you’re on your own in the oil-lamp-lit tent to eat dinner and play cards or tell stories or read.
During the days, you can choose to lounge around your tent or deck (tell the kids you’re observing the Sabbath, Wilder style) or you can explore. The farms all grow organic vegetables and raise livestock, so you’ll be invited to participate in chores and activities if you want. There’s a water pump near the tents and as most parents can attest, playing in water can eat up an afternoon pretty fast. The farms have bikes for rent and nearby towns to visit and antique shops to plunder and local fairs to attend. The pace is slow but not boring.
The three Feather Down Farms, two in upstate New York and one north of Chicago, allow parents to show their kids where their food comes from without sanctimony. I wouldn’t have thought my kids were ready for conversations about the politics of food, but miraculously, they seem to be. So maybe it’s time to get beyond petting zoos and backyard gardens and reading Little House books and take it to the next level: It’s time to check into a luxury tent for a weekend in the country.
Ann Shields is an online senior editor at Travel + Leisure.